After missing the bulk of Summer Camp due to testing positive for COVID-19 — although he was largely asymptotic — Yoan Moncada returned to the White Sox lineup on Monday night in the team’s exhibition game with the Chicago Cubs.
In his return to action tonight Moncada looked like he’ll likely be ready to go on Opening Day, even if he’s not entirely where he wants to be at this point in the summer.
“I feel good, I feel good today. I appreciate the chance that Ricky gave me to play five innings,” Moncada said through team interpreter Billy Russo. “I’ve been working hard to get ready, and I think that today was a good day for me.”
At the plate, Moncada had a line-drive RBI single in his first at-bat, then lined-out and struck out looking to go 1-3 on the day at the dish. Moncada said on Monday night that his timing at the plate isn’t quite where he’d like it to be, but expressed that he is confident that it will be there with some more at-bats this week.
“I think my timing is not there yet, I think that’s something that I’m going to get with repetitions, more games, and more at-bats,” Moncada said. “I’m not so far behind, I think I’m in a good spot for when the season starts. I just need to keep working, getting more repetitions. I know that I’m going to get my timing on track, but it’s something that I’ll get with more at-bats, that’s what I need right now.”
While Moncada might not be happy with where his timing at the dish stands at the moment, he looked like hadn’t skipped a beat defensively against the Cubs. In fact, his most impressive plays on Monday night came on the defensive side, as he gracefully handled multiple difficult plays at the hot corner without skipping a beat.
“I made a few good plays today,” Moncada said. “I just was ready for every ground ball. I prepare before every pitch, visualizing the ball being hit by my ground and that anticipation put me in the right spot to make those plays. I feel pretty good.”
No one in the ballpark was happier about Moncada’s solid showing at third base than his starting pitcher, Dallas Keuchel. Keuchel was pleasantly surprised with Moncada, given his lack of time to prepare with the rest of the ballclub, but Keuchel knows that Moncada is plenty capable of it.
“I was a little surprised, but he’s one of the most athletic guys on the field at any point in time,” Keuchel said. “He’s still young enough that he’s got those fresh legs under him at any point in time if he takes three months off, or half a game off. I would say I was surprised, but I mean it is Moncada. We expect a lot out of him and he expects a lot out of himself.
That’s really the biggest factor, is that he expects to be in there on Opening Day and I thought that this was a really good start to the second preseason for him.”
Moncada’s defense wasn’t the only part of Moncada’s game that Keuchel had high praise for on Monday night as the veteran southpaw shared his perception of Moncada’s year-to-year growth as a hitter.
“From my point of view, he’s still got to take that next step if he wants to be that next superstar, but every year that I’ve faced him, he gets better and better with the knowledge of the strike zone,” Keuchel said. “That was his big knock when he came up, was that he was willing to go outside of the strike zone early and often.
When I faced him last year with Atlanta that was my turning point in my own head that ‘hey this guys has really taken that next step into figuring out who he is as a player, what kind of talent he has and putting that all together’ because he wasn’t going out of the strike zone nearly as much as he had before. So that eliminates some of the pitches that I would like to throw, and that makes me try to stay in the zone more and by staying in the zone with Moncada, he’s going to do some damage.”
The real test for Moncada’s Opening Day status will come today when he wakes up and sees how his body reacts to the return to the lineup. Moncada spent significant time this winter working to strengthen his legs and hopes that it’ll pay off for him when he gets to the field.
“I put in a lot of work on my legs during the offseason and during Spring Training. My legs were stronger than before,” Moncada said. “I don’t know how I’m going to wake up feeling tomorrow, hopefully, all of that work is going to put me in a good position to wake up in good condition tomorrow.”
Today will be a big indicator as to whether or not we can expect to see Moncada in the Opening Day lineup, but Moncada thinks he’s on the right track at this point.
“I just need to keep preparing and doing all the stuff that I’ve been doing to get in the best shape possible for Friday. I think I’m on a good path for that, but I just need to keep working.”
Feature Photo: Getty Images